Danny Hope has taken a lot of criticism over the past two years. Even I have been guilty of cranking off an occasional "Fire Hope" in an Open Thread or two. This season the general consensus was that he should be gone if we failed to reach a bowl game, but he deserved another year if we did. What was got was the thinnest margin possible. We went 6-6 and reached the worst Big Ten Bowl. That is hardly a ringing endorsement for him to stay, but I have little doubt that barring a disastrous 49-0 blowout by the Broncos in two weeks, Danny Hope will be the Purdue football head coach in 2012.
The Lafayette Journal & Courier discussed the issue of a contract extension earlier this week. The situation is this: Hope has three years left on his current contract, and it is common for a coach to have at least four years for recruiting purposes. You want to go into a recruit's home and assure him you will be there for his entire career. With only three years, other schools can play the, "are you sure he is going to be there," card.
It is highly unlikely that Hope is going to be lured away by a bigger program. That rarely happens at Purdue <crosses self and thanks God Matt Painter stayed>. Even if he does get an extension, it is hardly a guarantee that he will stay through the end because another crappy season likely means a firing. The real question is what would the buyout in a firing be? Hope naturally thinks he should have an extension, while Morgan Burke is much more hesitant:
"I haven't had a chance to sit down with him and talk about his view of the season, what he liked, what he didn't like, what his plans are," Burke said Wednesday. "I'm not going to do a guy's personnel review in the newspaper. That's not fair.
"Let the season get done and we'll have an opportunity to sit down. If I tell you we're going to work something out ... the implication is if we don't do anything in 24 hours, there's something wrong."
Hope's contract, which calls for a review before Dec. 31, has three years remaining following this season. Hope was asked the day after Purdue beat Indiana to bring the Old Oaken Bucket back to West Lafayette if he deserves a contract extension.
"I certainly do, but I don't believe we're going to have this conversation right now," Hope told reporters Nov. 27.
If I were to look at Hope's tenure, I see it in three different acts. Let's look at them individually:
The Fabulously Flawed Year - 2009 - We remember this 5-7 season as one of near misses. There was only one truly ugly game. That was a 37-0 blowout loss at Wisconsin in which our lone highlight on the day was an opening kickoff for a touchback. Believe me, I was there. It was brutal. The rest of the season was exciting to say the least. We had a near-miss at Oregon in a game where few people gave us a chance. In fact, we outplayed the Ducks, only to hand them 17 points on turnovers. Turnovers would be critical in a home loss to Northwestern (six turnovers, including three that handed them 13 points before the half), Northern Illinois, and Michigan State. We all loved Hope after this season, let's not forget.
The 2009 team was a pretty good team that couldn't get out of its own way. Yes, we were 5-7, but if you eliminate just a few dumb mistakes it easily could have been in Pasadena at 11-1. I don't think I am crazy in saying that games against Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Minnesota are vastly different if you change just a few plays in each game. In the case of Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Oregon you need only change one play. The highlights were clearly the upset of Ohio State and our first win at Michigan in over 40 years.
Best of all, the offense was dynamic that year with great balance of run vs. pass. Keith Smith was a 1,100 yard receiver. Ralph Bolden was very nearly a 1,000 yard rusher. Had Bolden reached that plateau, he and Smith would have been only the second duo to accomplish the 1,000 yard mark in the same season in Purdue history (The first being John Standeford and Joey Harris in 2002). Joey Elliott had a brilliant season, and the defense showed some promise. Everything looked great going into 2010. All we needed to do was sharpen up the turnovers.
The "Sobs, Tears ACL" Year - 2010 - All the promise leading into 2010 went away with injury after injury. It really started in October 2009 when Robert Marve had his first ACL tear. Then in February the entire school was rocked by THAT GAME with Robbie Hummel. It was only next in a rash of injuries as it seemed every single major skill player on offense was lost either for the season or for a significant amount of time. Ralph Bolden didn't play a down after tearing his ACL for the second of now three times. The offense was punchless in the one totally healthy game of the year at Notre Dame. By the time we got to conference play Marve, Keith Smith, and Bolden (only the three most important players on offense) were done for the season. O.J. Ross, Rob Henry, and Justin Siller were all key offensive players that missed significant time.
By the Wisconsin game we were starting Sean Robinson, a fourth string true freshman who thought he was going to redshirt, at quarterback. Considering that the Badgers finished the year in Pasadena, that's far from an ideal situation to make your first collegiate start. We were literally one bad hit away from throwing walk-on Spencer Dawson to the wolves.
Somehow we survived though. We started 4-2, got a nice win at Northwestern, and were a blown fourth quarter lead at Michigan State (who won the Big Ten title, BTW) from playing Indiana for a bowl game. What we remember, instead, was another home loss to a MAC team and blowing a double-digit lead to the immortal Bill Lynch to lose our first home Bucket game in 14 years. 2010 was a disaster, and people started to turn on Hope then. Still, he deserved another shot given what happened with nearly every major offensive skill player (and their top backup!) going down.
The Punchless Step Forward Year - 2011 - I admit that I was spoiled as a Purdue fan. My freshman year was year two of the Tiller regime and I got a Rose Bowl trip out of my four years on campus, which is something very few Purdue fans can say. I grew accustomed to offenses that could hang 40 points on anyone with ease. It was always more of a question of if our defense could hold the opposition under 40. This season, aside from the Southeast Missouri State game and the unexpected explosion against Minnesota, getting to 20 felt like a challenge.
That is why we have a lot of people seriously questioning Hope. Yes, we had his best season record-wise, but we needed a blocked field goal against a 2-10 Sun Belt team, a blocked extra point and overtime against Ohio State, and a late interception against a 1-11 Indiana team just to crawl to six wins. This came in a year when the Big Ten was a lot of mediocre and we didn't even have to play two of its clearly better teams (Michigan State and Nebraska). We were healthy for the most part, but the offense never felt like a threat for a big play.
Once again, we had what has become a Hope staple: an ugly non-conference loss to a team we probably had no business losing to. At least Northern Illinois in 2009 and Toledo in 2010 were bowl teams. This year, Rice was just short of awful. Game against Penn State and Iowa in conference also felt like wins. The home game against Notre Dame is one of the few times I have seen a Purdue team completely fold after one play. We had a great atmosphere, only to remove all doubt we were going to lose after one stinking play.
We were the definition of mediocre, and it showed in the thousands of empty seats that will honestly have the biggest impact on Hope's tenure. Our athletic department is one of the very few in the country that operates in the black. With 20,000 empty seats per game at roughly $45 per seat, that's a loss of approximately $900,000 per home game. Taken over six home games (I'll remove the near sellout against Notre Dame), that is $5.4 million (give or take) worth of empty seats over the course of a season.
Now I realize that we very rarely have a season where demand is high enough to sell out all seven games, but it is not a stretch to say we should be selling at least half of those seats per game. After awhile, that becomes a big hit on the bottom line, especially when you have a coach making close to seven figures asking for a contract extension. Danny Hope is one of the lower-paid coaches in the league too.
I feel as if we're under a vicious cycle of poor results leading to low attendance, but the results on the field aren't improving enough to increase. Honestly, there is little reason for anyone other than the die-hards like me to get season tickets next year. There isn't even the excitement of a great schedule when the home slate has Marshall, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Michigan, the tire fire that is Penn State, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Of those games, maybe Michigan and Wisconsin will be close to a sell out with visiting fans. Four of our seven opponents can't even come close to selling out their own stadiums, let alone a road venue.
I like that Burke is playing this very coy. I said all season hat Hope was safe based on the principle that Burke gave Jim Freaking Colletto six years and we were nothing short of awful under him except for two years when Mike Alstott was running apeshit on the conference. Even then, we were merely a bad team with a stud running back. College athletic economics are much different now. We have an extra home game to generate revenue, nearly every .500 team in the nation goes to a bowl game, and empty seats, especially empty club seats, speak volumes.
In the end, I can see hope possibly getting a token year or two extension to satisfy recruiting. He does have a near top 25 recruiting class coming in, which is a vast improvement over the past five years. Surprisingly, the class is currently third in the Big Ten behind Michigan and
OMG URBAN MEYER IS SIGNING EVERY FIVE STAR RECRUIT INCLUDING A SEVEN STAR LONG SNAPPER AND OSU IS GUARANTEED TO WIN THE NEXT SEVEN SUPER BOWLS!!! Ohio State. It's not a flat out no, but it also isn't the OMG CHARLIE WEIS ALMOST BEAT USC, LET'S SIGN HIM FOR $5 BILLION/YEAR FOR THE NEXT THOUSAND YEARS that some schools give.
Hope needs to produce results, however. Next year has to be better than 6-6 or the cries for his job will get much louder. I trust the talent on the field, but I think that Hope's biggest problem is his coordinators. J.B. Gibboney is completely useless when it comes to special teams coverage. Gary Nord's offense has been as vanilla as possible for the last two years even when we have had healthy players. The defense seems to fluctuate from game to game whether it is going to look good (as it did for three quarters against Illinois and against Ohio State) and awful (the Wisconsin game). To close, I think hope absolutely must do the following to secure 2013:
1. He must avoid another bad non-conference loss. Eastern Kentucky, Marshall, and Eastern Michigan should all be easy wins.
2. He must win at least four conference games. Minnesota, Indiana, a rebuilding Illinois, and either Penn State or Iowa look like solid targets.
3. He has to show we can at least competitive against bigger, stronger teams like Wisconsin and Notre Dame.